2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the remarkable stretch-running win by Needles in the 1956 Kentucky Derby.
Trained by WWI Ace, Hugh Fontaine, Needles won his debut at two in a 4 ½ furlong race in March 1955. He set a track record for 4 ½ furlongs at Gulfstream Park that stood for more than four decades. Needles defeated Decathlon and Polly’s Jet winning the Sapling S. and Career Boy and Polly’s Jet in the Hopeful. A track record at a mile in the prep for the Garden State Stakes, which he also won, sealed his bid for the two-year-old championship.
From eight starts at three, Needles’ stretch runs carried him to victories over Fabius in the Flamingo Stakes and the Florida Derby in track record time. Needles started as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and came from 25 lengths out, through traffic, to defeat Fabius by a length. A strong closing second in the Preakness to Fabius, by 1 ½ lengths, and a thrilling Belmont victory clinched the three year old championship title. It takes a very special horse to repeat as champion at two and three. Other horses that accomplished this feat are Secretariat, Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Citation, and American Pharoah.
Before an injury at four, in only three starts Needles won the Fort Lauderdale Handicap in track record time and was third in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, both under top weight. Retiring with a career record of 21 starts, 11 wins, 3 seconds, 3 thirds and earnings of $600,355, Needles won from 4 ½ furlongs to 1 ½ miles, setting three new track records and equaling another at distances of 4 ½ to 9 furlongs, from two to four years of age. Had there been a bonus structure in the Triple Crown series in his day, Needles would have won the bonus. By comparison to today’s purses, his earnings would be over $3,500,000.
After attractive proposals from Kentucky, his owners Jackson Dudley and Bonnie Heath decided to stand Needles in his native Florida, building the 4th and 5th Thoroughbred farms in Marion County. The lack of available quality mares reduced his prospects at stud, nonetheless he sired 13% stakes winners and earners of $6,230,259. Needles brought world focus to breeding in Florida and Marion County where there are now about 400 Thoroughbred farms.
Needles put the Florida Thoroughbred industry on the map and sold more land than all the real estate agents in Marion County.
Reproduced and adapted by permission from the Bonnie Heath Farm website, Reddick FL.
Click here to read a Blood-Horse article on Needles.